by Helen ~ June 4th, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized.

We have, after a long couple of days, arrived in Bath and been let into our assigned residences! Our journey went something like this:

– Our group arrived thoroughly on-time and checked in. Check-in, which I normally like to think of as the least stressful part of the journey on the American one, was probably the worst part for me personally because I didn’t know how to use the passport scanners. I was totally overwhelmed by how much international travel has changed in the three years it’s been since I last flew to England. SCAN my passport? Print my boarding pass and luggage tickets MYSELF? I was blown away. Security, also, was extremely efficient. I didn’t mind the TSA body scanners at all–in fact, the man who was doing the scan was really nice, and we had a nice exchange while someone else behind a curtain surveyed my naked form to see if I had concealed anything worth mentioning. All told, we got through security in under ten minutes, which seemed ridiculous to me.

– We had time to eat a snack in the airport before boarding the plane, which was fairly comfortable. No screaming children, my television/headset worked, and the flight crew rushed us through dinner (which I did not eat) so they could turn off the lights and get us snoozing. The woman sitting in front of me was rather heavily-set and continued to re-adjust her seat for the duration of the flight. My legs, long as they are, complained greatly about this inconvenience.

– The strangest thing? EVERYTHING was quick. EVERYTHING was efficient, and EVERYTHING was on-time. I assumed our luggage wouldn’t be on the carousel for a little while, so we all took a bathroom break. When we got downstairs, though, the flight crew were just about to take our bags off the belt! We had a couple hours to wait in Heathrow’s coach station, but our bus was also right on time. We were extremely shocked when we got to our hostel and found out we weren’t going to be let into our rooms because we were ten minutes early for check-in. Irritating.

Getting here, then, was fine. The strangest thing has been trying to fit in with two different nationalities at once. Americans? Yeah, we are loud. That stereotype is absolutely true. I don’t even notice it when I’m in Virginia, but wandering around with my friends yesterday? I had to remind them more than once that we needed to be more quiet. Everyone was really tired out yesterday, but I got so anxious about us fitting in that I started to feel sick. We didn’t know how to order in the pub when we got there for dinner: I have only ever been to one with my family in the past, so I wasn’t even able to be helpful. When we were walking around, I became glaringly aware of how American everyone sounded, but was irritated when someone in the group tried to pronounce something in an English accent.

I have it very easy: I can switch between accents without any trouble. To me it feels natural to speak to an English person with an English accent, but if I’m standing with a bunch of Americans, my impulses feel divided. Of course it feels more right to speak in my American accent to them, but when we were in the grocery stores, I found myself wanting to sound more English in order to blend in with the other people doing their shopping. When I went up to the cashier, I spoke to him in an English accent. I accidentally handed him a 2 pence coin instead of a pound coin, and when I noticed I said, “Sorry, it’s been rather a long day.” We ended up having a conversation about his shift, which he had apparently been on since the early morning. The only reason we really bonded, though, was that I said it with an accent. I sounded like him, I looked tired like him–therefore, I knew what he was talking about.

It has been a truly weird experience trying to explain some things to my American friends that I have always known and never really thought much about. That certainly isn’t anybody’s fault, but I didn’t remember to tell them to try to walk on the left-hand side in the supermarket and on the sidewalk. I didn’t think to remind everyone about British water pressure, which falls below American standards. I think we would be having a much harder time of it if Bath wasn’t a World Heritage Site and therefore a large tourist attraction. We have heard several American voices other than our own since we’ve gotten here, which is some kind of comfort. Bath also has a university, which means we blend in as students as well.

Overall, I think I have culture shock: I’m shocked that England is as different as it is, but I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been here with my friends.

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